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Sailing Terminology

Sailing Terminology

Learning to sail is more than learning a new skill, it also has its own language.  Understanding sailing terminology is essential for efficient communication on board. Below is a list of the most common sailing terms and what they mean, which will help both RYA Day Skippers and RYA Competent crew learn the ropes.

Sailing Terminology for the boat
Bow                       The front of the boat
Stern                     The back of the boat
Port                       The left hand side of the boat as you face the bow
Starboard            The right hand side of the boat as you face the bow
Galley                   The term for the kitchen is on a boat
Heads                   The term for the toilet is on a boat
Companionway The steps leading from above deck to below decks
Cabins                   The bedrooms on a boat
Forepeak             The cabin at the bow of the boat
Saloon                  The living area in the middle of the boat
Lazerette             The locker for storing items on a boat.

Sailing Terminology for the sails
Jib                           The sail at the front of the boat and is normally the smaller of the two sails
Main                      The sail in the middle of the boat and is normally the larger of the two
Spinnaker            An additional sail used when racing or if the wind is behind the boat.

Sailing Terminology for ropes
Halyards               Used to raise or hoist the sails.  Commonly used with the type of sail that is to be
raised, e.g. jib halyard
Sheets                  Used to control the sails once they are hoisted.  Commonly used with the type of sail
that is to be controlled, e.g. main sheet
Warps                   Are use when securing the boat to a pontoon or mooring buoy
Lines                      The name given to other ropes that are not sheets, halyards or warps.

Sailing Terminology for fixture and fittings
Mast                      The long vertical spar that the main sail is hoisted up
Boom                    The horizontal spar attached to the mast that the main sail is attached to
Kicking Strap      Holds the boom down
Clutches               Are used to hold halyards. A halyard can be raised through a clutch without it being
opened, but must opened to let it down again
Jamming cleats   Are similar to clutches but are used on lines that need to be realised quickly for
example, the kicking strap
Cleats                    Are primarily used to secure mooring warps when alongside a pontoon.

Sailing Terminology for sailing terms
Trim In                  To pull in a sheet. Commonly used with the type of sheet that needs to be trimmed
in for example, “trim in the jib”
Ease Out              To loosen a sheet. Commonly used with the type of sheet that need to be eased out
for example, “ease out the main”
Luffing up            Turning the boat towards the wind, this means that the jib and main will need to be
trimmed in.  Also known as ‘hardening up’
Bearing away     Turning the boat away from the wind, this means the main and jib will need to be
eased out
Tacking                 Turning the bow of the boat through the wind, swapping both sails to the opposite
side of the boat
Gybing                  Turning the stern of the boat through the wind, swapping both sails to the opposite
side of the boat.
There may be variations on the terms above, used by different skippers on different boat. If you have not heard of a specific term before then ask your skipper what they mean.

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